’15-’16 Winter Weather Outlook

By: Chris Long

As temperatures begin to cool, and the leaves start to change, students have been looking forward to the seasons to come. While Fall is beautiful with all the colorful foliage, students often look forward to the season that follows: Winter. As we all know, snow comes along with Winter, (or at least we hope it will) and this year El Niño will be coming into play. El Niño is the warming of the central pacific ocean’s water, which occurs about every two to seven years infrequently. The water will warm during the early Summer and will stay warmer than average during the Winter time. This has an effect on worldwide weather, including us here in central North Carolina. The El Niño this year has been said to be one of the strongest on record, and could drastically impact our Winter weather.

In the Summer months, El Niño generally has little effect on the southeast. The biggest effect to the south is the increase of wind shear in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. This rips the top off of tropical systems and limits their development. In late August Hurricane Erika made headlines for being the first tropical system heading straight for Florida in years. As Erika was moving through the southern Caribbean Sea it was hit with huge wind shear that stopped its development and weakened it to a mere low pressure system by the time the storm made it to Florida.

(VIA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

In North Carolina, El Niño has a larger impact on the Winter. During El Niño years, the southern US has generally received greater than average precipitation, and lower than average temperatures. Yes, put two and two together and it seems that we’ll be in for a Winter wonderland this year. Well no, not necessarily. While El Niño may increase the chance of frozen precipitation across central North Carolina, it is not a lock that we will have 20 snow days this year. You wouldn’t want to lose your spring break, would you? Snowfall for this Winter can’t quite be predicted yet because it depends on a couple weather patterns that occur during the Winter over the Atlantic ocean. The setup of a long-term low pressure system over Greenland, and a long term high-pressure system to the south of the equator will determine how much precipitation will fall to the ground in the form of snow.

With all that being said, here are my predictions for this coming Winter.

Number of Winter storms to hit central NC: 3. While this number might seem high, keep in mind that last year we did have 3 storms hitting central NC. However, 2 of them were back to back, and all were in February. Perhaps this year they won’t be as close together, but we’ll see 3 storms again.

Total number of false alarms: 1. I’m feeling that one storm that looks promising, school is canceled, and then it’s 33 degrees and raining.

Total inches of frozen precipitation: 6. This is fairly above average, but not impossible. All it takes is 2 inches from 3 storms.

Number of school snow days: 10. While we might get just as many Winter storms this year as we have in years past, the lower than average temperatures combined with poor plowing of roads in Wake County will set up another string of snow days this Winter.